Camera shy

As animal welfare organisations are pushing for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to make CCTV mandatory in abattoirs, processors have expressed concerns about the possible backlashes of such systems. But according to security providers, CCTV is a safe technology that can help meat plants achieve high levels of security while reducing costs.

According to Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA), most plants already have some kind of CCTV installed, but that does not mean the system should be made mandatory. “We are not in favour of compulsory requirements. Our position is that there should be means for management to monitor what goes on in the plant, and CCTV may be an appropriate means to do that. But in principle, we think it should be processors’ choice,” he says.

But security providers believe that processors should accept the fact that the industry is changing, and use CCTV to their advantage. Barry Graham, managing director of security provider CDO Group, says: “The main reason why processors want to install CCTV is external influences, such as the FSA or animal rights movements. They feel like they have to do it, but they should have a proactive approach. The industry needs to move forward, and it has to be done from a brand integrity and profit protection point of view.”

ICMS managing director Steve Booth argues that if processors stopped rejecting the idea of mandatory CCTV, they could actually influence legislation in their favour. “Transparency is a huge and valuable weapon, and if the industry gets on board, it can actually get some input, instead of having it imposed to them. We could help move legislation in the way of meat processors, but the industry needs to wake up and start being proactive,” he says.

CCTV presents a number of advantages when used properly. It can help to deter thieves, and even discourage animal welfare associations from making undercover investigations. Rossides says: “There have been instances where, somehow, animal welfare organisations have managed to plant cameras in plants, so that could also be a motivation to install CCTV.”

According to security companies, the main advantage of having CCTV installed, apart from for animal welfare purposes, is that it allows processors to monitor and educate staff. Booth explains: “Not everybody sees what is going on in the factory and, with CCTV, the health and safety aspect is also taken care of. For example, with drivers that bring cattle to the abattoir at night, CCTV can help point out non-compliance to health and safety rules, and re-educate them.

“In the factory, issues can go from not wearing the correct equipment to people wearing jewellery and so on. In one case, a worker cut himself severely and went to sue the factory, but looking back at 
the footage, managers saw that he 
wasn’t doing his job correctly and avoided a lawsuit.”

Graham also believes that cameras on the site can reduce costs generated by employees’ claims. “CCTV can reduce the current health and safety claims culture observed in society in general, not just in the meat industry. With the correct application of cameras, it will reduce the claim culture, but if it’s not the correct system application it will still miss the required evidence,” he says.

In some cases, CCTV can even improve productivity by allowing processors to notice problems with machinery, Booth adds.

The idea that CCTV footage could be stolen and manipulated by animal welfare organisations is the main reason why processors are reluctant to install it in their plants. “We are very concerned about who would have access to the CCTV footage. Stunning and slaughtering activities are not everyone’s cup of tea — it’s not necessarily something people would want to have footage of, even if it’s done properly, and the images might be manipulated. Even the FSA board has questions on this,” adds Rossides.

Graham says there is no reason to worry about leaks. “You need to have the correct security to protect the footage. This is why processors should use experts, because just like in IT, there are security systems that can stop people from hacking the system and stealing the footage,” he says.

Steve Booth, managing director of ICMS, confirms that this is the industry’s “number one fear”, and explains that this is why processors should use independent security consultants. He says: “If footage is stolen from the factory, they only have themselves to blame. But if footage that is monitored independently gets stolen, processors can sue the company to 
death. It’s in our interest to ensure that footage is safe.”

The need to consult with experts is a general consensus across the security sector. Graham explains that the problem comes from the fact that processors try to install cameras themselves or get them fitted by non-specialised companies, such as electricians. “It’s like the blind leading the blind. CCTV requires a sector expertise. The fundamental problem is that meat processors have been instructing electricians or engineers as installers, not CCTV experts, about what they want within their plant. 

“It has to be driven by the correct questions of ‘What do you want it to do?’ and then systems designed by experts who understand the application of the cameras and technology.  This is the only way that CCTV will give a return on investment and reduce the costs currently facing all meat processors today. Meat processors are not security experts,” he says.

For Booth, having the cameras placed strategically by expert staff is crucial. He explains: “You can bring the percentage of intruders down and deter thieves with a well-placed camera. You can also prevent theft from the inside, but the way the cameras are placed changes everything, and processors need security staff to help them.

“It’s not just about having them, it’s about where you place them, but every factory is different, and many factors need to be taken into account to place them strategically. Most camera providers are only interested in selling the camera. The difference with our system is that we try to make it more effective and reduce costs.”

Graham agrees on the fact that a 
well-fitted CCTV system will pay for itself in a short time. “Processors are scared of the cost, because people spend enormous amounts on security that doesn’t add value. If done properly, it will add value and give returns on investment by reducing costs,” he adds.

And according to Booth, CCTV is not reserved to big processors: “All abattoirs could afford it. An eight-camera package costs between £4,000 and £5,000, including fitting.” He says ICMS products present the option of being monitored independently or by internal staff, but believes independent monitoring presents the most advantages.

“Factories don’t have time to study footage and, when they do, it’s always after an incident has happened. Independent companies can monitor CCTV around the clock, and notify specific areas as incidents happen,” he says. 

Besides, Booth believes that having CCTV footage monitored independently provides more transparency for customers. “The meat industry has to be more transparent. There are audits, but they only take place once or twice a year. With an independent system, factories are monitored constantly,” he adds.

For Graham, CCTV footage should be monitored from the inside, as it allows processors to react more quickly, but he believes that dedicated staff should be hired for that purpose. He explains: “CCTV needs to be monitored to be effective, otherwise people don’t get the full benefits, so for processors, remote monitoring is a no. If they want to be able to intervene as soon as problems come up, they should have suitable monitoring facilities and trained staff.”

With the help of security experts who can advise them on where to place cameras and how to protect footage, processors can take advantage of CCTV to protect their premises, improve efficiency and reduce costs. Graham concludes: “CCTV creates operational benefits and due diligence with staff. 
It creates a safe culture and a performance culture.”